The sixth and final volume of Knausgaard’s *My Struggle*

Remember when Ortega y Gasset wrote: “Within the novel almost anything fits…”?  Well, Karl Ove Knausgaard has proven him right in this improbably wonderful conclusion to his ongoing semi-fictionalized autobiographical series My Struggle, the first two volumes of which stand as literary masterworks.  It’s not every day that a 1153 pp. rant, outside the author’s main fields of expertise, turns out to be so compelling.  But wait…I guess those are his main fields of expertise.

Maybe a third of this book is an intellectual biography of Hitler and an analysis of how the proper readings of Mein Kampf change over the years and decades.  “Mein Kampf received terrible reviews,” writes K., and then we learn why they matter.  I found that segment to be a masterful take on liberalism and its potential for decline, as Knausgaard tries harder than most to make us understand how Hitler got anywhere at all.  Underneath it all is a Vico-esque message of all eras converging, and the past not being so far away from the present as it might seem.

Another third of the book covers various writers, including Dostoyevsky, Handke, Celan, Joyce, Hamsun, and Olav Duun, and why they matter to Knausgaard, and is interesting throughout.  There are detailed brilliant takes on Herman Broch’s The Death of Virgil and Rene Girard on Hamlet and then desultory remarks on William Petty’s Political Arithmetick.  For those sufficiently familiar with the underlying sources, it absolutely comes off.

The other third of the book, most prominent at the beginning, is a mostly failed and meandering fictional narrative of the author’s own life, unsatisfying if read “straight up” but in context a reminder that all thought processes degenerate, and an account of how and why they do so, and in that regard an ideal introduction to the rest of the work and a meta-move which ties together all six volumes of the series, including the often-unsatisfying volumes 3-5.  But it will try your patience.

As for what went wrong with liberalism, here is one relevant bit:

Charisma is one of the two great transcendental forces in the social world: beauty is the other.  They are forces seldom talked about, since both issue from the individual, neither may be learned or acquired, and in a democracy, where everyone is meant to be considered equal and where all relationships are meant to be just, such properties cannot be accorded value, though all of us are aware of them and of how much they mean…beauty eclipses everything, bedims all else, it is what we see first and what we consciously or unconsciously seek.  Yet this phenomenon is shrouded in silence…driving it out instead by our social mechanisms of expulsion, calling it stupid, immature, or unsophisticated, perhaps even primitive, at the same time as we allow it to flourish in the commercial domain, where it quietly surrounds us whichever way we turn…

I do “get” why the reviews have been so mixed, but I think someone has to have the stones to stand up and call this a masterpiece and that someone is me.  With it, Karl Ove Knausgaard has cemented his claim to have produced something truly creative and new, and now instructive as well.

You can pre-order it here, or if you were in a rush as I was, order from the UK.

Comments

So the book *does* reference Hit ler! I thought the title was familiar.

I have no time for fiction, unless brief or really good (I liked The Magus by John Fowles since it was based on a Greek island and well written), especially a Proust-length work. I just finished A. Christie's "They Came to Baghdad" which started out good but finished weak.

Yes, Fowles is an extraordinary writer, who has received less recognition than he should have. What did you think of Kazantzakis' " Zorba the Greek"?

The Magus was indeed very good as was Daniel Martin. Some of his shorter works, such as The Ebony Tower were also good. Unfortunately, some of his works were just unreadable (A Maggot) or too conceitful (The French Lieutenant's Woman - which was just a decent screenplay in the end).

Ray, you actually made me smile. There is something nearly Knausgaardian in diarizing that you "finished A. Christie's 'They Came to Baghdad.'"

Thanks, TC, for the linked "mixed" review: I found it more illuminating than most book reports. I guess I prefer being in a long state of knowing about Knausgaard but not yet having read him, if his candor is really such an assault, placing it in a class far beyond Pepys, or John Kennedy Toole (all his valves!) or Fred Exley (whom I wanted to like, or at least recognize, but didn't on first pass).

"... and we fail to realize how infinitely important each and every one of them is to us until we grow older and can see things from afar. When I was sixteen, I thought life was without end, the number of people in it inexhaustible. . . ." True that. At sixteen, trying things on, I would have showily attempted a cultural phenomenon like "My Struggle." And if I had gotten as far as that sentence (unlikely), it would have registered with me not at all. Does the passage almost redeem him? When some of us in the course of our own ridiculous struggles, *finally* come to the same absurdly-shocking "finite" realization, we are still not generous enough to the few people that remain to us, to admit it, instead adding it to the bitter hoard - but he just laid it out there with the defecation stories. To me it's the more naked revelation, even if no less trivial.

'how the proper readings of Mein Kampf change over the years and decades'

That is what happens when a leader loses the ability to have his government ensure that only the correct interpretation is available to those who purchase the book - or receive it for free when getting married.

clockwork, you from Germany, right? You and dearime I confuse. Anyway, some background comments are in order to explain "free when getting married", was this the practice in Nazi Germany, to get Hit ler's works for free, like Mao's little red book?

Bonus trivia: you can get arrested in Germany for praising Hitler, which some say proves there's no real speech freedom there, but, in the USA you can get arrested for mentioning you wish to kill the president, even as a joke.

'was this the practice in Nazi Germany'

Yes, it was. And Hitler received the royalties - the state paid for the copies it distributed, after all.
'you can get arrested in Germany for praising Hitler'

More like a ticket when in public, but yes, praising a genocidal totalitarian dictator in the country that he led to ruin is considered against the law.

'in the USA you can get arrested for mentioning you wish to kill the president, even as a joke'

Arrested? Possibly, though likely the case will not lead to a conviction if a judge recognizes it as a joke, or other form of common speech. However, the Secret Service will definitely keep a file, and possibly take action in certain contexts, if in the opinion of the Secret Service, your 'joke' was actually a threat.

This is definitely one of Tylerl's weirdest virtue signally/humble braggy posts.

Your edgy, try-hard buzzword salad is worse. I give your post a 1/10 at best. 1.5 if you spelled Tyler's name right.

"I do “get” why the reviews have been so mixed, but I think someone has to have the stones to stand up and call this a masterpiece and that someone is me."

More brag than humble.

Along similar lines, the first volume of Peter O'Toole's memoirs are less about little Peter in the 1940s and more about the two main influences on his life, his dad and the guy who kept dropping bombs on his neighborhood, Hitler. I thought O'Toole's autobiography was a pretty informative portrait of Hitler (actors are prone to the kind of insights that scholars aren't), although it's been 25 or 30 years since I read it so I don't remember it that well.

Tyler and Steve Sailer are on the same anti-liberal, romantic train of thought. Nobody ought to be surprised, really.

Charisma and beauty can each be learned (charisma, usually) or acquired (beauty, usually). To argue otherwise is to fall into (here meandering) romanticism. It's okay not to like everything capitalism has done, but 1100 page therapy sessions are more than I want to engage.

Yup, that was my reaction to the excerpt too. Although it's easy to overdo the importance of a "growth mindset" most people have way way too much of a fixed mindset with regard to ... just about everything. They see the world as it is, not as it can be.

That certainly includes charisma and beauty and Knausgaard has fallen into the trap of the lazy-minded in thinking that they are fixed. I'm surprised that Tyler lets Knausgaard off the hook here, economists are better than most people at realizing that substitutes and tradeoffs are everywhere and that whatever we currently see could be approximated by using alternatives. Did the US economy depend on oil costing $12 a barrel in 1970? Sort of -- the oil shock was real (but exacerbated by price controls), but given enough time (and the lifting of price controls) US industry responded by using energy saving techniques and technology such as cars that got better gas mileage.

In terms of human personality, though I'd dismissed The Runaways as a schlocky artificial group initially, over the years I've realized that they had some actual talent and even intelligence, especially in this essay by former bassist Jackie Fox (Fuchs) describing out how Joan Jett decided to turn herself into a rock star and how Barack Obama (who'd been a classmate of Fuchs' at Harvard Law School) appeared to have done the same.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackie-fuchs/why-barack-obama-reminds_b_121621.html

Charisma isn't fixed, any more than factor input ratios are.

Well, both interesting comments, but ....

The guy who tried to kill himself twice after Ariana Grande dumped him 'hard', as CDAN calls it, probably had at a minimum 1 in 100 charisma (top one percent). Charisma is a relative good. In his won world, that guy did not have enough: he needed spiritual guidance, not more charisma. That is why I often bring up the Book of Proverbs as the most important first book in the Bible for so many people ....

As for beauty ... we, as humans, are simply not designed to be good arbiters of "beauty." Men are designed to be anxious to mate with whoever appears to be a potentially good mother, and women are not attracted to men's looks in any way powerful enough to make them naturally good judges of male attractiveness. Sure, there are a few portrait painters who can ramble on and on about eyebrows and eyes and lips and so on, but for the most part anybody who tells you that such and such a woman is vastly more beautiful than most women is lying, or has been fooled by decades of addiction to media and artifice.

That being said, the only reason I know that (i.e., know what I stated as fact in the previous paragraph) is that I have an awful lot of charisma ( in real life anyway, on the webs who knows how I come across ), and I know , with lots of detail, what women look like when they are trying to be beautiful for someone. Most men simply do not have the charisma to be able to say the same. And no, I could not have achieved that charisma through a self-help book or by reading pick up artist advice. So the insights I have are not anything I can boast of, as if I had to work hard for them.

I just started reading Knausgaard, and the Ferrante novels, based on the enthusiasm you've expressed for them over the years. I just finished the first two Knausgaard books, both very good (and I'll soon start the second Ferrante). I always appreciate these book posts. Thank you.

I wonder if a member of #TheResistance will find this post and label TC a White Supremacist. After the Kavanaugh hearings, you can't be too careful.

OMG does everything have to be about Trump?

I tried Knausgaard but found him wanting. If I am going to undertake a multi-volume read it must be better than Proust which in this case it was not. The late and under appreciated William Gaddis is deserving a much greater audience. Is there any novel better than 'JR' at portraying the follies of Wall Street or 'A Frolic of His Own' about the law? Of course one can really be immersed in Pynchon's 'Gravity's Rainbow' which benefits from multiple readings.

I just finished the third Library of America volume of Ross McDonald's Lew Archer noir novels. One can re-read these (as I have done) and still be mystified at how everything hangs together.

Tyler,

Do you recommend skipping books 3-5 and reading this? I have only read the first two.

Yes same, I've read 1 and 2 and I think I might read this and skip 3-5. With reading the opportunity cost is always high.

I found #5 to be quite good. So in order of quality, maybe I rank them 1,2,5,4,6,3... For me, 300 pages of Hitler is 299 too many. Still on net it was worth it to me, but draw your line in the sand according to opportunity cost.

"Another third of the book covers various writers, including Dostoyevsky, Handke, Celan, Joyce, Hamsun, and Olav Duun, and why they matter to Knausgaard, and is interesting throughout. There are detailed brilliant takes on Herman Broch’s The Death of Virgil and Rene Girard on Hamlet and then desultory remarks on William Petty’s Political Arithmetick. For those sufficiently familiar with the underlying sources, it absolutely comes off."

In other words, for Tyler and only for Tyler.

I have never heard of William Petty, and I am not sure if Olav Dunn is the same guy who wrote that book of poems I read in the Scandinavian section of the community college library that day next to the gas station where I had a four hour wait for a muffler change ---- (if he is I would be interested in what Knausgaard says of him); and Handke has little interest for me, as far as I know, and ditto Girard on Dostoyevsky and Hamlet ... but that still leaves a lot of potentially interesting insights within the third of the book described in the quoted comment.

It is not like we open the daily paper and get to read the Nietzsche Family Circus; as much as I like that comic strip, and as much as I presume Nietzsche, in the original German, may be interesting .... I have no expectation that when I buy USA today I will be able to read about the Nietzsche Family Circus.
So sue me if I, like at least one of the guys who runs this blog, expect Knausgaard to deliver a little more insight on that sort of subject.

I just re-read a dozen or so of the Nietzsche family circus quotes. A funny guy, all in all, but seriously, (a) he probably was not as good a classical scholar as his fans claim on his behalf and (b) nobody, as Jerry Seinfeld says, grows up wanting to be a stand-up comic. Look at it this way: think of Proverbs 7, 8 and 17 - and imagine Ralph Richardson reading them out for the 20 minutes it takes, than imagine Nietzsche doing standup for the next 20 minutes. I mean, that would be some seriously good standup, but still, you know, and I know, that eventually you are going to want to see Ralph Richardson again, and again: Nietzsche - maybe not so much. You know it and I know it.

The question answers itself. Disappointment was temporary, God loves us the way we are but loves us too much to let us stay that way.

Wait, did the sixth volume get translated to English only just now? It was originally published in 2011. I read the Finnish translation more than a year ago and also found it to be on par with the first part of the series. Although, I don't share Tyler's disdain for parts 3-5 (they were not as good as 1 and 6, but still well worth reading).

Charisma and beauty are institutionalised at the heart of the British constitution in the form of the Crown.

Tom Nairn's 'The Enchanted Glass' is very good on this - he describes it as a manifestation of 'glamour', picking up on connotations in the Gaelic origins of the word. He's a republican and so very critical but he nevertheless explains the lure of monarchy even in a modern liberal democratic setting. In fact, one might argue that the resilience of Britain's liberal order is actually down to the persistence of monarchy and the emotional impulses it serves.

Surprised that Knaussgard living with Norwegian monarchy hasn't spotted this caveat. But perhaps bicycling monarchies aren't glamorous enough?

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